Agricultural Legislation, Leadership And Consultant
Michael McLeod and his network of connections at mmcleodaglaw.com offer a variety of consulting services in areas of the law that he helped draft and originate. Among the most recent of these is the Federal Crop Insurance Program that he was instrumental in founding over 30 years ago. He did not write the law authorizing the program because he had left the Senate Agriculture Committee staff in 1980 but he took the leadership in making the program work and in tweaking the law over the years. He represented the American Association of Crop Insurers from 1982 until 2017.
Derivatives Law Focus
Another is the derivatives law field which he helped originate when, as General Counsel of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he drafted the statute known as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act of 1974. He was forced to turn down an opportunity to be appointed as Chairman of the young commission by then President Carter in 1977 because of the family financial obligation of his then invalid wife.
Agricultural Lawyer And Lobbyist
However, he was active in this field as a lawyer-lobbyist for the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) beginning with his move to the firm Davis and McLeod in early 1978. He represented the CBOT for 20 years, when they were acquired by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) in 2007 and the CBOT representation was terminated in 2008.
Coalition For Futures Reform
Subsequently, McLeod did pro bono work with friends in Congress such as Chairman Peterson in addressing the flaws that created the Great Recession of 2008. Those efforts resulted in the passage of the Dodd-Frank law to remedy loopholes in the law. He joined an informal group called the Coalition for Futures Reform. It was led by hedge fund manager Mike Masterson, and it met frequently with CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler. He then was able to represent the Futures Industry Association under the leadership of his old friend John Damgard,’ who is his age. However, that ended after Damgard retired in 2012.
McLeod’s work in this area of law is referenced in his book “The Death of Civility and Common Sense” and is described in the chapter “The most important thing I ever did”.
A friend who was a great leader of the American Association of Crop Insurers took exception when he read McLeod's book and told him that he then thought that the crop insurance program was more important than the futures industry . Thus, Mcleod is now writing a history of the Federal Crop Insurance Program, which he was instrumental in founding over 30 years ago. He did not write the law authorizing the federal program, but he took the leadership in making tweaks to the law as well as providing permanent funding over the years. He represented the American Association of Crop Insurers until 2017. During that time, the program replaced direct payments as the primary way of helping farmers,
While crop insurance has an average cost to the taxpayer of around $7 billion a year, it is still a bargain. It ensures our national food supply and avoids huge off-budget disaster bailouts to some parts off the country every year.
Leadership On Checkoff Programs
Still another area of the law that he had leadership in is the field of law that involved mandatory commodity checkoff programs. This came out of his volunteer work with Dairy lobbyist Joe Westwater to enact the Dairy and Tobacco Adjustment Act of 1983. McLeod had worked on checkoff programs, even back in his time on the staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee, when the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated was established to save cotton from the competition of synthetics. Cotton state members were successful in getting $10 million appropriated annually to fund this program.
The difference in the law for this Dairy Checkoff was that it made the assessments of farmers mandatory and farmers an opportunity to get refunds if they were unhappy with how these funds were managed. This was a departure from all past precedents, and McLeod remembers telling Westwater that he was not sure it was Constitutional. As it turns out, some producers in other commodities mounted legal challenges. The checkoff programs lost in some appellate courts.
Then in a surprising decision with Supreme Court Justice Scalia writing the majority opinion, The Supreme Court held that the mandatory check off was for government speech and that therefore the government mandated collection of funds could not be invalidated under the First Amendment. The Court pointed out that the rule, while compelled funding of private speech raises First Amendment concerns, compelled funding of government speech generally does not invalidate these checkoff programs.
Certain producers of cattle and other commodities continue to raise legal challenges, so the last word may not have been written. Moreover Justice Scalia is now deceased and his old nemesis, liberal Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe is 75 and would no longer be chosen to lead the challenge. The brilliant young lawyer who crafted the winning arguement was John Roberts of the Hogan and Hartson Law Firm. He is now of course the Chief Justice of the U S Supreme Court. If the Court hears the case again, he would have to recuse himself.
A more serious threat has come from the organic lobby. In the 2014 Farm Bill, organic producers of food and fiber were exempted from paying assessments. In the stewardship of Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack the rule exempting Organic farmers was not implemented. However, It will have to be implemented soon. The market for organic foods is exploding. Amazon recently paid $13.7 billion to buy out Whole Foods.
Since the checkoff funds cannot be used to lobby Congress, the checkoff programs are at a serious disadvantage.
Mcleod has considerable expertise in animal agriculture because of his representation of the United Egg Producers as one of his first clients when he entered private practice in 1978. He also represented the nations cattlemen in their many attempts to get a Checkoff Program enacted. Finally, they did succeed in getting the National Cattlemen's Beef Board authorized as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. This was led by Joanne Smith, who was the first woman chair of the National Cattlemen's Association.
Unfortunately, UEP reached an agreement with the vegan lobbying group the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This created a great strain between UEP and the law firm's other clients , such as the cattlemen. In fact, a key lobbyist in the firm quit lobbying altogether rather than lobby for this egg bill. After a futile attempt to get the deal made a part of the 2014 farm bill enacted, UEP leadership had to blame this embarrassment on someone. Thus, the law firm's 38 year representation of UEP was terminated. The guy who quit rather than lobby for their bill was hired. Currently Mcleod advises the National Association of Egg Farmer (NAEF), an organization of smaller egg producers who opposed the UEP deal with HSUS.